Welcome to the second prologue of Heirs to the House of El, posted several hours early. This one is from Jason's perspective, and should provoke fewer sniffles. Still, we hope we're touching your hearts with these first-person introductions to the teenaged twins. The third-person narrative begins with Chapter One: How Far We've Come, and will be posted two weeks from today.
Many thanks go to our beta team and our loyal readers. We write for you, fans and friends.
I woke up huddled on the very edge of my bed, in imminent danger of falling off. Normally I don’t get up until the alarm’s been going off for several minutes, but the feeling of gravity tugging at me where I leaned off the edge had managed to do what my alarm clock couldn’t. Yawning, I rolled over to look at the reason I’d very nearly been shoved out of my own bed.
Kala sprawled there, sound asleep, her robe spread around her like a cape and her long black hair flung across both pillows. She’d always been like that; my sister might fall asleep curled into a little ball, but while unconscious she stretched out like one of those ‘grow your own dinosaur’ toys that expand to six hundred percent of their original size when you put them in water. In the process, I had politely shuffled aside in my sleep to make room for her, giving up most of my bed. I didn’t mind her hogging the bed and the covers, and not just because I was used to it after almost sixteen years. I could vaguely remember her voice in the dark last night, soothing me out of one of those terrible nightmares.
Those dreams… We never talked about them to Mom and Dad, not even to each other. But I knew we were both reliving the same awful moment. For Kala, she was probably dreaming about Luthor tossing her off the side of that island. She’d had a fear of drowning that took years to overcome, and even now she was cautious. I remember her grim expression the first time she waded into the pool over at Richard and Lana’s apartment, how she’d had to force herself to let go of the railing. No one pushed her to do it, either, not even our therapist. My sister wouldn’t let anything control her, not even crippling fear, so she made herself get over it with sheer stubbornness. I’ve never told her how much I admire her for that. She probably knows.
I’m not afraid of drowning or falling or anything like that. No, I dream about Dad flying me down to rescue her. And in my nightmares, her hand slips through mine. I try to hold on as hard as I can, letting go of Dad’s neck to grab with my other hand, but she still slides away. I can’t hold her, and I have to watch her fall, have to see the look of shock and betrayal in her eyes. I try to scream for her, but no sound comes out of my mouth, and Dad flies upward, dazed by the kryptonite, not even knowing that Kala has slipped from our grasp.
Her worst nightmare is dying. Mine is seeing her die, being helpless to save her. Analyze that, Dr. Marrin.
I propped myself up on one elbow and watched her sleep. I’m not blind or stupid; I know my sister’s pretty, even beautiful. She got Mom’s striking coloration with this classic look from one of our grandmothers, Ella or Lara, and she turns heads everywhere we go. She knows it, too, the vain little brat. Kala can bat her eyelashes at most guys and they’ll do whatever she asks, but it doesn’t work on me. Thing is, I’m her brother. Pretty doesn’t count with me. I know her way better than that.
After all, I remember when we were little, and she used to wrap a red towel around her shoulders and jump on the furniture, pretending to be Dad. I remember opening her bedroom closet one time and finding her with a scarf wrapped around her head, singing an old Madonna song into her hairbrush. I also remember the mercifully brief period around eleven years old when she got her growth spurt and everything else, including acne. It seemed like she was growing up overnight and leaving me behind, and I was pretty anxious for a year or so until I started getting taller, too. She teased me when my voice broke just as much as I’d teased her when she got all spotty.
We’ve been through a lot, Kala and me. Bickering and harassing each other most of the time, yet always sticking together against outsiders. We might be yelling insults at the tops of our lungs, but let one poor fool try to agree with one of us, and we’ll both turn on him. We protect each other, too. She’s taken on boys twice her size and whipped them for saying stuff about me, and though I try not to get into fights – I’m way too strong to even roughhouse with anyone but Dad or Kala – I won’t let anyone hurt her. She’s my sister, my twin.
You know, Dad used to have this whole ‘last survivor of a dying race’ complex – thanks, Jor-El – where he always felt so alone. He and I have talked about it some, and I understand how much the family means to him because he was so lonely for so long. But I’m not a last son – I was never alone. Not even in the womb. From the moment of our conception (in the Fortress, while some jerks from Krypton were trying to take over, and this was not information I absolutely needed, thanks Mom and Dad), neither Kala nor I have ever really been alone. I can’t remember ever feeling lonely, not even once.
Even when we were separated – in different classes or whatever – we still weren’t quite alone. It’s hard to explain without sounding corny, but I always know Kala’s there. She might not be in the same room, but she’s in my heart. That’s totally cheese toast, but it’s as close as I can get to what I mean. Sometimes I know when she’s mad or upset even though she’s clear across the school, and sometimes she picks up the same kinds of feelings from me. Psychic mumbo-jumbo, Uncle Perry would call it, but not even he could explain why Kala started crying the time I tripped coming out of the elevator and skinned both knees on the sill – three floors below where Kala was sitting in Perry’s office. Dad’s a little weirded out by stuff like that, but Mom just brushes it off as being the normal way of things. Both dads find it freaky, actually, but Richard’s better at hiding it. I guess once he wrapped his mind around the fact that the kids he’d raised were super-powered, everything else was easier to take. And as for Lana, she tends to shrug off weird stuff pretty easily. As the only sane member of this family, I guess she’s had to take a lot of things in stride.
Other kids get jealous of our family, you know. Nobody else we know has two mothers and two fathers, all of whom get along with each other and all of whom love us. Not to mention all of our aunts and uncles, relatives by blood or newsprint, and our horde of cousins. Poor Dad, going from a life of just himself and Grandma, to having the Lanes, Troupes, and Whites all welcoming him as one of the family. Then there’s Uncle Perry and Aunt Loueen, Uncle Jimmy, and the Unrelated Aunts, Cat, Tobie, and Maggie. They’re all family even though none of them are blood relatives, and our holiday get-togethers are huge events. Must’ve been some serious culture shock for Dad, but he’s adapted well. Everyone adores him, even those who don’t know the secret.
The secret – oh yeah, that’s the other thing. There’s a family within the family, a very small and select group of people who know that Dad is Superman. Me and Kala, Mom and Dad, Richard and Lana, Grandma, and Nana…
I caught myself sniffling a little, and brushed the tears aside. I still miss her, but I never let myself really break down and cry. That night in the hospital, Mom was hysterical, and Dad had to go to her. He had to be strong for her, comfort her, while she wept like I’d never heard before. Kala was just as heartbroken, so I was strong for her. I held her and let her cry for both of us. But it still gets to me sometimes.
I hated to lose Nana. It felt so personal, like there was something I could’ve done to save her. I know there really wasn’t anything I could do; Dad’s talked to me enough about how we’re not miracle workers. Some things just can’t be helped. Still, it’s not fair. And Nana dying opened my eyes to the fact that other people I know and love are going to die, too. Someday Grandma and Grandpa Ben will leave us – she just broke her hip last year, and Dad went nuts worrying over her. What really scares me is the thought of Mom dying. I know the grief would drive Dad crazy if she died before him. They love each other so much it’s like staring into the sun – blindingly obvious.
When I went into Nana’s room alone that last time, she just looked at me for a long moment. It felt so strange being there, with all those machines humming and beeping in the background like something out of a bad science fiction novel. And in the middle of it all Nana, with that cancer gnawing away at her the whole time, taking another bite of her life with every breath, every heartbeat, every word.
Once she spoke, though, I forgot all of that. “Jason, love,” she whispered, and I knelt down to rest my head on her shoulder. She kissed my forehead, and the hand she raised to pat my arm was cool. After a moment, she murmured, “No one pays attention to the good boy, do they? You do well in school, you’re brilliant at math and science, you play a difficult instrument well, and no one ever has to remind you to practice or to do your homework. You listen to your parents, and you don’t cause a lot of trouble – oh, I know about your pranks, Jason Lane Kent, even if your father is convinced by that innocent smile.”
I blushed then, feeling foolish. It was true that I’d often gotten away with misbehaving when we were little. Dad would take one look at my big, pleading eyes and decide that Bagel knocked over the vase, or that Mom must’ve eaten the last cookie in the jar. Whenever Kala did something naughty, she pranced around with this triumphant look on her face until our parents knew she’d been up to something. But I’d always kept quiet, and I thought only Mom realized I wasn’t quite the perfect little angel everyone thought I was. Apparently Mom got her observational skills directly from Nana.
“Silly boy,” she chuckled dryly. “I know you better than you think, and I love you. You aren’t some cardboard cutout of a perfect child. Stop trying so hard to be what you think your father is, and just be yourself.”
“What do you mean, Nana?” I asked softly.
“Clark is far from perfect himself,” Nana informed me. “Remember, he stole your mother’s memories when he thought their relationship was a mistake. He turned his back on his mission and fled back to Krypton because he couldn’t face her anymore, leaving her here alone and pregnant with you and Kala. He’s made other mistakes in his life, mostly small ones, and never anything on that scale again, but he has made mistakes.” Lowering her voice to a whisper only I could hear, she added, “He may be Superman, but he’s not a god. He’s just a man – a good man, gifted with amazing powers, but still a man, and flawed as all men are. That’s all anyone should ask of you, Jason. That you grow up to be a good man. And you’re already most of the way there, sweetheart. Stop worrying so much, stop pushing yourself, and grow at your own pace. You will be everything you need to be, everything you want to be, when you need to.”
Those were her last words to me. She was getting tired again, and from then on everything was very quiet in the room, Nana saving her strength for breath. I went out of the room and wandered the hospital halls until I found a door leading to a patio outside. The sun was shining down on me, and I could feel its golden light filling me up. Nana’s voice echoed in my head … but I couldn’t quite take her advice. I am Superman’s son. I am the Heir to the House of El, and the heir to its legacy, to my father’s mission. I can’t afford to relax, to just be a good guy. I’ve got to be a hero, and I’ve got to be as close to perfect as I can be.
After all, if I screw up, the consequences could be a lot more severe than any other teenager. I have super-strength, heat-vision, and x-ray vision, all nearly as strong as Dad’s powers. I’ve also got some super-speed, though Dad and Kala can outrace me, and my hearing’s not as good as theirs either. Still, the powers I have are more than enough to cause serious damage to people and property if I’m not super-careful.
I shrugged myself out of that line of thought with the reminder that Kala’s the freaky morbid twin, not me. And since she was still snoozing sprawled across eighty percent of my bed, that gave me a chance to get up before her and have the bathroom all to myself. A rare treat, considering that she’s disgustingly perky most mornings. I eased out of bed and padded barefoot down the hall.
Sharing a bathroom with my sister isn’t as much of a hardship as it could be. I mean, my cousin Sam has three younger sisters, and when the family goes out to dinner they all want to primp in front of the mirror. He’s stuck brushing his hair in the reflection from his ROTC plaque. On the other hand, Kala’s Goth, which as far as I can tell means she owns twice as much makeup as a normal girl, most of it either really dark or some kind of iridescent. I’ve watched her do her makeup, and applying lipstick alone is a four-step process. I’m so glad to be a guy – all I have to do is wash my face, brush my teeth, comb my hair back with a little water to tame that crazy curl in the front, and splash on some cologne. I don’t even have to shave yet, and I’m not eager to start sprouting facial hair like some guys I know. Most girls I know prefer to kiss a clean-shaven guy. Elise did, anyway…
Thinking of her brought me to a halt, and my reflection stared back at me sadly. “Pathetic,” I muttered to myself, shrugging off the thought. I’d really believed Elise was The One, but I guess I was trying too hard to have what Mom and Dad have. Kala told me I was too committed, but I was so crazy over Elise that I didn’t listen to anyone. I wanted to marry her, live my life with her – when I pictured my future, family photos on the mantle, the only woman I could see beside me was Elise.
Well, that went down in flames. I made the mistake of telling Elise about the whole future-family-photos thing, and she got kind of flaky on me. Canceled a couple dates, then said we should break up for the summer since we weren’t going to see each other. She went on vacation to New Zealand with her family over the summer and started seeing some guy. That ticked me off. She didn’t even tell me, I had to find out by talking to mutual friends. Even though she’s back in town for school and not seeing the New Zealander guy anymore, we aren’t speaking. And I’m seeing someone new, too.
Giselle’s not The One. She’s not the answer to my dreams; she’s not Mrs. Right. If I’m totally honest with myself, she started out as revenge on Elise, a way to prove that Elise really didn’t rip my heart out and stomp on it. But now that we’ve been dating, I really like her. She’s gorgeous, and all the guys are jealous of me when she’s holding my hand while we walk down the hall. Better yet, she’s affectionate and cuddly and always saying nice stuff about me. Giselle’s also got a wicked sense of humor, and she’s a lot smarter than Kala gives her credit for, too.
Kala, of course, hates her. The way she acts, you’d think Kala had planned and paid for my wedding to Elise, and I backed out of it to run off with the local streetwalker. Elise was the only one of my girlfriends that Kala ever got along with, and Giselle’s the one she hates the most. My nutty sister’s done everything short of pitch Giselle off the balcony to express her disapproval. But you know what? It’s my life. If I want to have a little fun with Giselle, that’s my business, not Kala’s. She’s proven time and time again that she’ll do whatever she wants with her boyfriends.
Sometimes I really worry about Kala. She can’t seem to stay with the same guy for more than a month. Part of the problem is that she’s beautiful and she knows it. Even with the freaky Goth makeup and wardrobe, they’re practically lining up to ask her out. That’s no good for her – one day her head will swell so much it’ll pop right off, and we’ll have another Giant Floating Head in the family. Sometimes I can bring her back to earth by calling her Jor-El Junior, but more often than not these days she just glares at me and sticks her nose in the air. It’s like she bought the whole ‘legacy of a dying race’ thing and considers herself the Last Princess of Krypton or some bull like that.
Yeah, the House of El is old and famous, but so what? I’m interested in the practical part of the legacy, not in the nobility of continuing Krypton’s vastly superior culture, blah blah blah. I’m my father’s son, and I just want to help him in his duty. Not because some brilliant scientist sent him here to uplift a primitive, savage people, but because Earth is my home. The whole of humankind is my people. Sure, people do some dumb things that never would’ve happened on Krypton, but we’re talking about an entire race with their heads so far up in the clouds that they never realized their planet was about to freakin’ explode. Jor-El really doesn’t have room to talk about humans.
Not that the legacy doesn’t give me hives, too. I mean, every kid has some stress in their teenage years, trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. It’s worse if one of your parents is famous, because then you can’t just settle for being a decent wage-earning guy; you have to really be someone, to prove that your famous parent isn’t a fluke, that their genes and their philosophy can raise a child as awesome as they are. And if your mom is two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Lois Lane, it’s enough pressure that Dr. Marrin has talked to me about taking something for the stress. He doesn’t even know about Dad – now that’s pressure. I have to live up to his example, and those are some really big boots to fill.
So I guess it’s normal for me to be feeling all freaked out and wondering if I’m actually good enough to be the next Heir to the House of El (there should really be some kind of trumpet fanfare every time Jor-El says that). Hey, I’m doing better than a lot of guys my age – I know where I’m going in life, I just don’t know if I can actually get there. A lot of people haven’t got that much figured out yet.
The only person I know who totally had it together is Sam. He knew he was going into the Army since he was like five. It’s weird – the way Mom talks about Grandpa Sam, he seems like he wouldn’t exactly be happy with the Troupe kids. Like maybe it would bother him that Uncle Ron is black. Which, incidentally, makes Kala laugh ‘til she cries, because if interracial grandkids would bother him, interspecies ones would totally wreck his world.
But anyway. Grandpa Sam might not have been too happy with his namesake, but Sam doesn’t know that. He totally idolizes his grandfather and wants to be an Army general just like him. Mom and Aunt Lucy weren’t really happy with that, but Sam is dedicated – he’s madly in love with America and democracy, and defending them is his calling. Some of Nana’s Army contacts sat down with him when he was in high school, and talked to him about going to college first and joining the ROTC so he could come in at a higher level. That’s what he did, and he loves it. I really believe there’s going to be a General Troupe one day. Maybe by then I’ll be able to tell him about how I’m planning to serve my country, too.
Or maybe not. Dad has always emphasized the need for secrecy. Not even Grandpa Ben or Kristin know, and they’re always around people who do. I understand that, but Lana and Richard know, and nothing bad ever came of that. You’d almost expect Richard to say something about it. He’s got that kind of sense of humor where I can imagine him saying, “Yeah, after Lois broke up with me, the only man good enough for her was Superman.” On second thought, he probably has said that, just not in public. Still, it would be nice to have someone my own age to confide in, you know? Someone besides Kala. Preferably a guy – there are things guys want to talk about that girls don’t understand, stuff you wouldn’t want to talk to your dads about, and it sucks to have to watch every conversation to make sure I don’t accidentally let the secret slip.
I do have friends, but the guys in chess club don’t really know me. Neither do the guys in my videography class. We can talk about the stuff that interests us, but I don’t have anybody I can have really deep conversations with. I always have to hold back just a little, and I hate that. It really reminds me that I’m not exactly like other kids. As if accidentally using my x-ray vision wasn’t reminder enough. I can watch those medical shows on TV and complain about how it doesn’t really look like that. People are usually a lot globbier on the inside. It’s never as neat as Hollywood wants you to think.
There are a few things that can help me forget how different I am. Music is one of them. I still play the piano, and I’ve started helping Mrs. Thomas with some of her younger students. Kala and I go to Lynn Stalmaster School of the Arts – she’s in vocal, I’m in instrumental. It’s a really strong academic school; only Spangler College Prep has better test scores, and we would probably stand out too much there. Plus they’re a little too stodgy. At an arts school, everybody’s weird, so even a couple of half-alien kids aren’t going to attract much notice.
I take some of the film courses too. I really like movies, which is probably Richard’s fault. He bought me a handheld DVR one Christmas, and I’ve been making short films with it. My favorite so far is Godzilla Versus the Giant Vampire Women. Yeah, so it’s totally my iguana dropped on top of Kala when she fell asleep in full makeup. And it has a very anti-climactic ending. She woke up, saw the lizard, and started scratching his head and talking baby talk to him. Seriously, who does she think she’s kidding? That’s no way to treat a cinematic monster. If she really hated him like she says she does, she would’ve given me something decent to film.
Okay, so I mostly filmed my family and my pets, although Dad confiscated my very first masterpiece Don’t Pester Mom Before Her Coffee. The beginning’s slow – my voice asking Mom to look into the camera. Repeatedly. Answered only by groans, until Kala hears me and comes in. Then you have the stereo effect of both of us chirping “Mommy, lookit the camera. Mommy, lookit the camera. Mommy, lookit the camera, please.” She finally shoves the covers back and sits up, her hair all wild and her eyes mostly closed, and sees the camera. Mom really looks like a hibernating bear rudely awakened. Then she realizes what’s going on, and yells for Dad to “come get this damn camera before I kill your psycho children.” And Kala and I start giggling, because we think Mom’s joking.
Looking back, I wonder how many times we almost died pulling stunts like that. I’m old enough now to realize that when Mom reared back and gave us that crazy look with the whites of her eyes showing, only her maternal instinct saved our lives. Anybody else who tried the kinds of nonsense we subjected her to would’ve gotten beaten to a pulp. And most of the time, Kala and I thought it was funny. She’d say stuff like, “Clark, please get the chirping hordes out from under me for a while before I lose my freakin’ mind and jump off the goddamn balcony,” and Kala and I would laugh, “Mommy’s silly!”
Poor Mom, she never really wanted kids. Oh, she loves us – that was never in doubt, not even for a second. But sometimes it shows that she really wasn’t prepared for us. Especially now that Kala and I are both taller than her. It’s like she’s constantly surprised by us; the first time I hugged her and accidentally picked her up, we were both pretty startled. And the fact that we’re growing up, just by itself, sometimes boggles Mom’s mind.
I think I’m the only one she’s talked to about it. Once when I was showing little Michelle how to play ‘Chopsticks’, I caught Mom looking at me with this absolutely heartbroken expression. I asked her about it later, and she told me it seemed like just yesterday I was picking out simple melodies like that, stretching to reach all the piano keys. I guess time flies when you’re raising kids. Mom told me no parent is ever really ready for their child to grow up – Aunt Lucy cried so much at Sam’s high school graduation, it was ridiculous – but it was worse for Mom, because she hadn’t planned to have children. Everything was a surprise, and she was always constantly amazed by every little thing we did. Just about the time she got used to being the mother of twin infants, we turned into toddlers. By the time she adapted to toddlers, we were school age. And now that she’d gotten it all squared away, accustomed to having Dad and Richard and Lana in her life and to taking us kids to school, we turned around and became teenagers on her. Then everything seemed to change even faster.
She was sitting on the couch, and I was leaning up against her shoulder. Mom was staring off into space, so far gone into her own mind that I’m not sure she even realized I was there. “Living with Kal-El isn’t easy,” she murmured. “But living with two teenagers, whom you thought you knew every single thought that crossed their minds, and all of a sudden it seems like they’re completely different people. Like you don’t even know them anymore. Bad enough they’re growing every time you turn your back on them, and your daughter can reach stuff on shelves you need a stepladder for. Suddenly they’re saying and doing things you never imagined, and you realize that they’ve become their own people – you don’t have as much influence over them as you used to, and you hope you did a damn good job when they were little, because they’re off and running into their future and nothing you can do will call them home…”
I kept silent, not sure what to say. There were tears in Mom’s eyes, and the sight of them filled me with dread and wonder. Dread, that anything could frighten my incredibly gutsy mom. Wonder, that she loved us so fiercely. Still in that distant tone, she whispered, “And it doesn’t help that Kal-El’s never home, if it’s not someone in the city it’s the damn JLA calling him in for something stupid they should be able to handle by themselves. That’s what the League is for, making sure everybody has backup and nobody has to work 24/7 saving the rest of us from ourselves. But half the time if they don’t call him he goes anyway because he’s just too freakin’ noble for his own good. We’re lucky that alone hasn’t blown his cover. And when he is home, sometimes it’s no good even then, because I know I’m not getting any younger and he’s surrounded by heroines in spandex half the damn day…”
“Mom, you’re not old,” I told her earnestly. To be honest, I was afraid she’d really forgotten who she was talking to and was about to tell me something I didn’t want to hear. Kala and I already had soundproofed rooms and expensive earplugs; none of our parents had bought into the idea that romance dies when you hit thirty-five. But I did catch the drift of her fears, and tried to soothe her. “Besides, Dad only has eyes for you. It’s really kinda gross how he’s still mooning over you after being married so long. You two are worse than some of the kids at school.”
At first my voice startled her, but then she smiled at me. It was still a bittersweet smile, though. “When he’s here,” Mom murmured, and then kissed my forehead. “My sweet boy, comforting his poor old vain mother.”
“You’re not old!” I protested, scowling at her. She arched an eyebrow at me, and I crossed my arms in my best Mad Dog Lane impression. Mom’s eyes narrowed in caricature of herself, and I responded by squinting and pouting at her. We both cracked up, Mom laughing ‘til tears ran down her face, and she kissed my cheek again.
Those recollections got me through my morning routine, and I opened the bathroom door, already thinking about what I’d wear to school today.